This Christmas, more Mainers seem to be eschewing the plush for the practical, as merchants report higher sales of gift cards for necessary goods such as groceries and No. 2 heating oil.
“I think a lot of people are going with more practical gifts — things people need. That’s what we hear a lot,” said Amy Hanscom, manager of Steaks N’ Stuff Market and Deli in Lincoln.
She estimated that the community grocery store has sold 30 percent more gift cards than it did last year.
“A lot of parents are buying them for their kids, so they can get Christmas dinners,” Hanscom said.
“Kids are getting them for their parents,” said cashier Nancy Kilbride.
The trend seems to be repeated across the state in large, regional stores and smaller local ones. It’s hard to know if the cause is simply a function of the bad economy, store owners and spokesmen say, but the effect is clear: more grocery gift cards under the Christmas tree.
Michael Norton, spokesman for Hannaford supermarkets, said that the regional chain has seen a “significant increase” of 40 percent to 50 percent in gift card sales this holiday season.
“I think there’s something to the pragmatism of the gift,” Norton said.
Another possible cause is that this year the grocery chain sold gift cards online for the first time and also offered discounts for bulk purchases of the cards.
“Employers are giving gift cards instead of fruit cake,” Norton said.
At Dysart’s, Maine’s iconic truck stop in Hermon, workers said they’ve been busy selling gift certificates — for food, but also for wood pellets and heating oil.
“There are older parents buying for their grown kids,” said Robin Cowan. “I didn’t have that last year. They know that their kids can use it and they’d rather buy them something they can use.”
In Greenville, Craig Watt, operations manager at the Indian Hill Trading Post and Supermarket, said that gift card sales rose about 30 percent this year in his store, too.
“I think a lot of it is people buying gift cards to give to family, friends and loved ones who may be having tough times paying the bills or buying necessary items,” Watt said.
The Trading Post also sells sporting goods, but those sales have been down this season as gift card sales have grown.
“People are being very careful as to what they spend. It’s not so much food sales. It’s the extra things — the new ice augur, the new fishing trap,” Watt said.